By Johnnie C. Godwin
Contributing columnist, B&R
“Turn to Hezekiah 1:1 in your Bible for the text of today’s sermon.” In my high school days, the pastor of our large church would sometimes begin his sermon this way. Sure enough, you could hear some Bible pages begin to flip.
Newbies or other folks would be searching for the book of Hezekiah. Then the pastor would chuckle and announce his real biblical text. He would add that he had just been testing how well we knew our Bible and that, of course, there was no Bible book named Hezekiah.
Still, there could have been a Hezekiah book as we’ll soon see. I just want to help us get to know both the content and our need for personal experience with the Bible.
Me and my Bible. In 1937, I was born into a home that had a Bible and tried to live by it. And I’ve never been without a Bible since then. In fact, the Bible has been and is the greatest and most influential book in all my life. From birth on, I was taught and came to believe that the Bible is the Word of God.
I always had a Bible and learned most of the broad truths in it at church or home. I accepted biblical truth as God’s Word by faith, knowledge, and experience. And I commend the Bible to you in the same ways.
Though I gradually learned a lot about the Bible, I really didn’t begin to study the Bible for myself until I was 15.
At that age and stage in life, I felt called to preach and to use the Bible as my textbook. And despite my early reluctance to becoming a preacher, I said yes to God and have done so for 77 years. I commend the Bible to you as God’s Word for your life.
You and the Bible. There are two basic ways to know the Bible: (1) by its content and facts; and (2) by your own experiences matched against the Bible. Even a summary statement about the whole Bible’s contents and knowledge is beyond what I myself can write. Our point of agreement is that we can read factually the contents of the Christian Bible.
Here’s a stab at what I would say: The Bible deals with all eternity but helps us see time itself as a God-created island within eternity: That means, there was a beginning and will be an end of time; but not of eternity: Eternity is forever. We have the Bible as one volume but 66 books within the one volume. The 66 books have 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament.
When I was a boy and went to Vacation Bible School, all of us learned the names of the 66 books in order. So, we would never search for Hezekiah.
It is believed that the Bible was written over about 1,500 years. The 66 books contain 1,189 chapters and hundreds of thousands of words. Anything more is beyond space I have to write.
But instead of leaving you hanging, let me suggest one little book that has sold over 2 million copies of — more or less — factual matter about the content of the Bible. It is titled Know Your Bible: Expanded Edition by Paul Kent (Barbour Publishing, Inc., 2013).
Bibliolatry versus Bible experience. How people look upon the Bible varies widely among the seven-billion-plus people on planet earth.
But perhaps we will find value within the Bible itself to contrast the extremes of bibliolatry (worshiping the Bible) and what Jesus taught as the purpose of the Bible.
During Jesus earthly ministry, no one read and knew more of the Bible than the religious leaders. In the gospel of John, Jesus’ summary states explicitly and experientially exactly the contrast I’m writing about. So, let’s read it from the Christian Standard Bible (CSB): “You don’t have His word residing in you, because you don’t believe the one He sent. You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me. But you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life” (John 5:38-40, CSB).
It is possible to read and memorize every word in the Bible without ever coming to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The Bible itself confirms it. See Romans 3:23; 6:23; 10:9-13; and Ephesians 2:8-10.
When your number is up. An old, fatalistic quote says, “When your number is up,” it’s all over. The idea is that nothing can change the moment of death when it comes to you or is near. That thought takes me back to the beginning of this column and the mention of Hezekiah. And if you know your Bible well enough, you may remember Hezekiah and what God told the prophet Isaiah to tell Hezekiah (see II Kings 20:1-10; II Chronicles 29-32; Isaiah 36-39).
God told Isaiah to tell King Hezekiah, “Set your house in order, for you are about to die; you will not recover” (II King 20:1). Hezekiah prayed that God would not “let his number be up” then. Before Isaiah had gotten out of the temple area, God told him to go back and tell Hezekiah that He had heard Hezekiah’s prayers. Hezekiah would get well and rule rightly for 15 more years (II Kings 20:2-10). So Isaiah had to turn around and reverse his message. God changed the due date for death for Hezekiah. And Hezekiah was a good steward of his extra 15 years. When your number is up, there’s a chance under God that it might not be up. But the chance is so rare as to make the truism true.
In my 67 years of ministry, I have preached a lot of “last sermons.” In other words, I have preached the message of salvation by grace through faith to unsaved people. And after that message, invitation, and ripe time of decision making, a lot of people have gone out unsaved, in spiritual death. They missed every chance — and their last chance before eternity in hell. I didn’t judge, but I grieved over those who said no to God and died without His salvation.
Conclusion: Know your Bible and experience God. Psalm 90:12 reads, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts” (CSB). All the days of our life ebb away, and then we fly away. Where we fly depends on more than a factual knowledge of the Bible or a decent life; it depends on whether we have experienced the Author of the Bible. He loved us before He created us. He loved us while we were yet sinners. And there is no evidence that God ever quits loving us. But there is a moment when life ends and we leave time saved by God in Christ eternally; or we leave time lost in the second death. Read your Bible and know it! But most critical, most essentially, know the Author and experience salvation. B&R — Copyright 2019 by Johnnie C Godwin. Write Johnnie: email@example.com.